Will the Middle East Ruin Barack Obama’s Summer Vacation?

Photos of the president hitting the golf course as bombs dropped in Iraq showed he’s determined that it won’t. For some of us, it’s not so easy.

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U.S. President Barack Obama lines up his putt while playing a round of golf at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts August 9, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama lines up his putt while playing a round of golf at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts August 9, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Whoever is in charge of managing the media for President Obama really blew it this weekend.

It already demonstrates a measure of chutzpah when the war-averse President of the United States gets in front of the cameras to discuss his decision to launch U.S. air strikes in Iraq, declaring the U.S. would “maintain vigilance” against the bloodthirsty forces that are brutalizing everything in their path …. just before he gets on Air Force One and takes off for the vacation paradise of Martha’s Vineyard.

But it crossed a line to have the cameras rolling upon arrival at the Vineyard, when you are hitting the golf course first thing on your vacation, which will last for two weeks – he’ll be back at his desk on August 19. Even the usual Obamaphilic CNN generously called the move "bad optics."

A Reuters report noted that allowing "press photographers to take pictures of the president with club in hand … is rare. Journalists seldom get to view the president playing golf, which he does almost every weekend in Washington when the weather is good. The fact that reporters were given access to him on the same day as his somber comments on Iraq showed a White House wanting to appear immune to critics of Obama's taking time off."

One wonders who made the decision to televise his first day of vacation at all? And if so, why not make his initial activities include little quality time with Michelle and the girls – which might at least justify his absence from the Oval Office – instead of GOLF.

Ah golf, that sport that seems as exciting as watching grass grow, but seems to have an obsessive grip on powerful men. Golfing is a notoriously problematic pursuit for U.S. leaders – the amount of grief that former President Bush got for his hitting the links at key junctures was so substantial that Bush confessed he decided to give up the game during his Iraq-plagued second term because "it's just not worth it anymore" and "I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

You’d think Obama would be smart enough to learn from Bush’s mistakes, and not risk having split screen images of him having fun on the golf course paired with images of Islamic State tanks rolling across Iraq, stranded Yazidi children dying of thirst on a mountaintop, and U.S. planes dropping bombs below.

I watched all this play out as I sat in New York City on my own vacation – and wished I could send an email to President Obama and tell him that he really shouldn’t bother trying to relax, because when the world is on fire, vacations not only appear bad – they are almost impossible to truly enjoy. That’s what I’ve learned this summer. For the past few weeks, I’ve been far from home, following the route of the carefree summer family jaunt I planned, travelling in New England along scenic coastlines, taking the kids to amusement parks and historic sights, and now we’re in New York for the shows, shopping, and the other indulgences of the Big Apple.

It’s all been well and good – until I turn on the television, take a look at my computer or smartphone see the death, destruction and fear that has gripped Israel and Gaza in my absence, and suddenly, it’s just not fun anymore.

I know I’m not alone – many other Israelis I know – and, I presume, others in the Middle East lucky enough to have the ability to travel, haven’t exactly been able to kick up their heels on their summer getaways when their compatriots are suffering such severe pain and loss back home. It may sound counterintuitive that Israelis wouldn’t want to “get out of Dodge” and head out for a break from the strife abroad – but indeed, many people canceled their summer vacations when the rockets began flying.

Those of us who didn’t give up on travel or cut trips short have been painfully conscious of not flaunting our good fortune. I didn’t cancel the visit to the U.S. my kids had been looking forward to for so long – but I did give up my usual habit of splashing vacation frolics across social media and have been posting vacation photos minimally on Facebook and Twitter. It simply feels like bad taste do so, and disrespectful to family and friends running to shelters back home, those mourning the young men who fell in battle, and the victims of the attacks on Gaza.

And I’m not the leader of the free world.

Obama would do well to watch his step when it comes to the images he puts out when the U.S. is engaged in Iraq – he has CNN and Fox News, not Facebook to worry about.

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